The Declaration in the Ridvan Garden
By 1863, Bahá’u’lláh concluded that the time had come to begin acquainting some of those around Him with the mission which had been entrusted to Him in the darkness of the Siyah-Chal. This decision coincided with a new stage in the campaign of opposition to His work, which had been relentlessly pursued by the Shi‘ih Muslim clergy and representatives of the Persian government. Fearing that the acclaim which Bahá’u’lláh was beginning to enjoy among influential Persian visitors to Iraq would reignite popular enthusiasm in Persia, the Shah's government pressed the Ottoman authorities to remove Him far from the borders and into the interior of the empire. Eventually, the Turkish government acceded to these pressures and invited the exile, as its guest, to make His residence in the capital, Constantinople. Despite the courteous terms in which the message was couched, the intention was clearly to require compliance.19
By this time, the devotion of the little company of exiles had come to focus on Bahá’u’lláh’s person as well as on His exposition of the Báb’s teachings. A growing number of them had become convinced that He was speaking not only as the Báb’s advocate, but on behalf of the far greater cause which the latter had declared to be imminent. These beliefs became a certainty in late April 1863 when Bahá’u’lláh, on the eve of His departure for Constantinople, called together individuals among His companions, in a garden to which was later given the name Ridvan (“Paradise”), and confided the central fact of His mission. Over the next four years, although no open announcement was con- sidered timely, the hearers gradually shared with trusted friends the news that the Báb's promises had been fulfilled and that the “Day of God” had dawned.
The precise circumstances surrounding this private communication are, in the words of the Bahá’í authority most intimately familiar with the records of the period, “shrouded in an obscurity which future historians will find it difficult to penetrate.”20
The nature of the declaration may be appreciated in various references which Bahá’u’lláh was to make to His mission in many of His subsequent writings:
The purpose underlying all creation is the revelation of this most sublime, this most holy Day, the Day known as the Day of God, in His Books and Scriptures – the Day which all the Prophets, and the Chosen Ones, and the holy ones, have wished to witness.21
...this is the Day in which mankind can behold the Face, and hear the Voice, of the Promised One. The Call of God hath been raised, and the light of His countenance hath been lifted up upon men. It behooveth every man to blot out the trace of every idle word from the tablet of his heart, and to gaze, with an open and unbiased mind, on the signs of His Revelation, the proofs of His Mission, and the tokens of His glory.22
As repeatedly emphasized in Bahá’u’lláh's exposition of the Báb's message, the primary purpose of God in revealing His will is to effect a transformation in the character of humankind, to develop within those who respond the moral and spiritual qualities that are latent within human nature:
Beautify your tongues, O people, with truthfulness, and adorn your souls with the ornament of honesty. Beware, O people, that ye deal not treacherously with any one. Be ye the trustees of God amongst His creatures, and the emblems of His generosity amidst His people....23
Illumine and hallow your hearts; let them not be profaned by the thorns of hate or the thistles of malice. Ye dwell in one world, and have been created through the operation of one Will. Blessed is he who mingleth with all men in a spirit of utmost kindliness and love.24
The aggressive proselytism that had characterized efforts in ages past to promote the cause of religion is declared to be unworthy of the Day of God. Each person who has recognized the Revelation has the obligation to share it with those who he believes are seeking, but to leave the response entirely to his hearers:
Show forbearance and benevolence and love to one another. Should any one among you be incapable of grasping a certain truth, or be striving to comprehend it, show forth, when conversing with him, a spirit of extreme kindliness and good-will....25
The whole duty of man in this Day is to attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth for him. Let none, therefore, consider the largeness or smallness of the receptacle....26
Against the background of the bloody events in Persia, Bahá’u’lláh not only told His followers that “if ye be slain, it is better for you than to slay,” but urged them to set an example of obedience to civil authority: “In every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness.”27
The conditions surrounding Bahá’u’lláh’s departure from Baghdad provided a dramatic demonstration of the potency of these principles. In only a few years, a band of foreign exiles whose arrival in the area had aroused suspicion and aversion on the part of their neighbors had become one of the most respected and influential segments of the population. They supported themselves through flourishing businesses; as a group they were admired for their generosity and the integrity of their conduct; the lurid allegations of religious fanaticism and violence, sedulously spread by Persian consular officials and members of the Shi’ih Muslim clergy, had ceased to have an effect on the public mind. By May 3, 1863, when He rode out of Baghdad, accompanied by His family and those of His companions and servants who had been chosen to accompany Him to Constantinople, Bahá’u’lláh had become an immensely popular and cherished figure. In the days immediately preceding the leave-taking a stream of notables, including the Governor of the province himself, came to the garden where He had temporarily taken up residence, many of them from great distances, in order to pay their respects. Eyewitnesses to the departure have described in moving terms the acclaim that greeted Him, the tears of many of the onlookers, and the concern of the Ottoman authorities and civil officials to do their visitor honor.28
Copyright © 1991, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís
of the United States. All right reserved.
Published by the Bahá’í International Community,
Office of Public Information, New York.